Shi Shi Shi Shi Shi and the joy of the Antanaclasis verse….

There’s a Chinese poem called Shi Shi Shi Shi Shi. The reason for the title should be obvious if you read the poem in Westernised script:

Shíshì shīshì Shī Shì, shì shī, shì shí shí shī.
Shì shíshí shì shì shì shī.
Shí shí, shì shí shī shì shì.
Shì shí, shì Shī Shì shì shì.
Shì shì shì shí shī, shì shǐ shì, shǐ shì shí shī shìshì.
Shì shí shì shí shī shī, shì shíshì.
Shíshì shī, Shì shǐ shì shì shíshì.
Shíshì shì, Shì shǐ shì shí shì shí shī.
Shí shí, shǐ shí shì shí shī, shí shí shí shī shī.
Shì shì shì shì.

Which translates as:

In a stone den was a poet named Shi, who loved to eat lions, and had resolved to eat ten.
He often went to the market to hunt for lions.
At exactly ten o’clock, ten lions had just arrived at the market.
At that moment, Shi had just arrived at the market too.
Seeing those lions, he shot them with his arrows.
He brought the corpses of the ten lions to the stone den.
The stone den was damp, so he had his servant clean it.
After the stone den was cleaned, he tried to eat those ten lions.
When he ate, he realized the corpses were in fact ten stone lions.
Try to explain this matter.

It was written by a linguist called Chao Yuen Ren to demonstrate how inflection and the use of tone could alter the sense of Chinese words. In Chinese the same word can have different meanings when pronounced at a different pitch.

It’s an exercise in what the ancient and rhetorical Greeks called antanaclasis, the repetition of a word in different senses. As Benjamin Franklin said: ‘Your argument is sound. All sound.’ Or Shakespeare’s:

Whoever hath her wish, thou hast thy will,
And will to boot, and will in over-plus…
Make but my name thy love, and love that still,
And then thou lovest me, for my name is will.

(This particular verse is often ignored by the Shakespeare-was-really-written-by-someone else-dressed-as-Queen-Elizabeth brigade.)

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